Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States, yet many women are unaware of the risk. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control state that "one person dies every 34 seconds in the United States from cardiovascular disease." In addition, the symptoms of a heart attack can be different for women, so it is important to be aware of your risks and get regular echocardiograms. Here's why.
What Is a heart attack?
A heart attack occurs when there is a blockage in the blood flow to the heart. This blockage prevents the heart from getting the oxygen it needs, which can damage or kill part of the heart muscle. A heart attack is a medical emergency and requires immediate treatment.
How Do You Know if You Are Having a Heart Attack?
The symptoms of a heart attack can be different for men and women. Popular culture shows men suddenly and unexpectedly grabbing their chests in pain, which is the sign that many people have come to expect.
Women, however, experience more subtle symptoms that may develop over several days, including:
- Shortness of breath
- Lightheadedness or fainting
- Discomfort in the jaw, neck, or back
It is important to listen to your body and if you think you are having a heart attack, call 911 immediately.
How Can an Echocardiogram Help?
An echocardiogram is an ultrasound of the heart that uses sound waves to create images of the heart's structure and function. An echocardiogram can show if there is any damage to the heart muscle or abnormal blood flow to the heart. This test is important for women because it can help identify risks for cardiovascular disease and potential problems before they become severe.
What Risks Can an Echocardiogram Reveal?
An echocardiogram can reveal a number of risks for heart disease, including:
- Coronary artery disease. This is the most common type of heart disease and occurs when the arteries become narrowed or blocked due to plaque build-up.
- Heart valve problems. The valves in the heart help to keep blood flowing in the right direction. When they do not work properly, they add unnecessary strain on the heart.
- Aortic aneurysms. This is a bulge or ballooning in the aorta, "the main artery that carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body." If this aneurysm ruptures, it can be life-threatening.
These are just some of the risk factors that can be identified during an echocardiogram.
Echocardiograms are an important tool in the fight against cardiovascular disease in women. If you think you may be at risk for heart disease, talk to your doctor about getting an echocardiogram. It could save your life.